Well-off children play less - study

Tue, Oct 9, 2012, 01:00

CHILDREN FROM disadvantaged communities enjoy more freedom to play outdoors than children from more affluent backgrounds, according to the findings of a research study.

It found that middle class children had “narrower windows of freedom” to play in their neighbourhoods because they were “much more likely to be heavily scheduled within structured and timetabled extracurricular activities”.

Led by Doireann O’Connor from Sligo Institute of Technology’s department of social sciences and Marlene McCormack from Early Childhood Ireland, the study involved interviewing 1,700 families in 240 communities, both urban and rural.

“We covered all six cities as well as good-sized towns such as Wexford, Castlebar, Tralee, Longford and Enniskillen and six rural counties – Wicklow, Donegal, Clare, Leitrim, Fermanagh and Monaghan,” Ms O’Connor said.

The aim of the all-island study was to “capture data on how children in modern Ireland in the age categories 0-15 are playing within neighbourhood spaces including streets, greens, playgrounds, laneways and parks among others”.

Middle-class children “are spending a far greater time on homework than other children, they also spend the most time reading books and their parents are the most worried about them not having enough time to engage in play”, the study found.

Children in medium-sized towns “fared worst in terms of outdoor play time, with children in cities and rural areas enjoying significantly more time outdoors”. In cities, however, children living in apartments “are faring worst of all”. These children had “the least amount of outdoor play opportunities and time allotted to outdoor play. They also had the lowest instances of traditional play which their parents recognised as having engaged in when they were children”, they added.

Indeed, the “vast majority” of parents expressed the view that they had “more freedom and more time outdoors than their children do”. They were also “more than twice as likely to have walked to school as their children are”, according to the study.

Not surprisingly, it found that indoor activities, such as watching TV and playing with electronic equipment, were “highly prevalent in children’s lives”, particularly among boys. Girls, though playing outdoors less often, were more likely to engage with nature.

“Gender interactions were surprisingly low, with children in urban areas more likely to mix across gender lines,” the authors said.